Prof Dening talks about how research is advancing dementia diagnosis

One of the things that are really important for researchers – and indeed people with dementia and their families – is about how we diagnose dementia and how we do this as early and as effectively as possible. And so there’s a lot of research going on into what biomarkers – so there are these things like proteins, or they may be changes on brain scanning, they may be psychological changes – that are picked up through testing. And clearly, if we’re going to have effective treatments it’s likely that we’re going to want to treat people at earlier and earlier stages.

So how we support people is really important and I think, my personal view is I’d like to see more research in that kind of area. The other thing that we know from clinical work is that some groups of people are kind of harder to reach, they may be more reluctant to see their doctor if they get a problem with their memory. So I’m thinking about people who are from maybe different ethnic minorities, certainly, people who develop dementia at a younger age, often find that they have a very long period of seeing various doctors and having different forms of treatment – and not necessarily appropriate or effective – before they eventually get to a specialist clinic and get diagnosis. So we need to understand more about that and then get better at diagnosing people early.

There are other groups of people who may be somewhat marginalised like people who are in prison or people with learning disabilities, where it may be hard to get diagnosis and treatment. 

There are other groups of people who may be somewhat marginalised like people who are in prison or people with learning disabilities, where it may be hard to get diagnosis and treatment. And again we need to make sure that what we offer is kind of fair and appropriate. Sometimes it’s useful to think about what might things be like in a few years time – in five years time or in ten years time – which of course is very dangerous trying to predict anything, but I’d imagine that we will have more sophisticated ways of approaching the diagnosis of people with dementia.

I hope that we will have more non-invasive tests so that we don’t have to stick too many needles in people. I think probably we’ll use combinations of tests, and I hope that we will also be thinking about new approaches, new hypotheses about how the common forms of dementia develop. And I hope that some of those really bright ideas that people are having are coming through as diagnostic tests.

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